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  • Alistair Ross

As a Creative Director, why you should take Mark Ritson's Mini MBA in Marketing.



In our fast-paced, low attention span society, familiarity and understanding are often mistaken for each other. I was brought up in a medically educated household. My mother, a Lancastrian doctor, with more letters after her name than in the rest of our address, and my father, a Scottish Sales Director in the North American pharmaceutical industry. Everyone in our house was entitled to an opinion, but there were always subtle reminders that a qualified opinion counted for more. Show your understanding, not your familiarity.


"These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had access to so much knowledge, and yet been so resistant to learning anything."
Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise

It's an unfashionable point of view, as Tom Nichols expands on in The Death of Expertise.

Whatever your profession, expertise is a differentiator, which is why it's the first word in our positioning at LogicLogicMagic®.


I'm not talking about being an intellectual or a professor - simply that if you practise a trade you should probably be qualified in it. Who wants an enthusiastic amateur flying the plane? Or worse, running your country? An internet connection is the entry level to education these days, so achieving levels of expertise is no longer an elitist concept. But it does take a growth mindset and the humility to realise that learning is akin to fitness; it takes effort and hurts along the way to achieve great results.


For over twenty years I have been knowingly passing off familiarity with Marketing as understanding. I have expertise in my creative crafts, but creative executions are a mere by-product of Marketing. The icing on the cake, not the cake itself. Creative icing won't save a cake made with a poor recipe, or often no recipe whatsoever as I have found out to my chagrin more recently. It was time to go and learn how to make good cake. To have an informed opinion. So, I could have better conversations with those paid to make cake. To question with understanding whether their list of ingredients would even lead to a cake at all. Finally, as we launched LogicLogicMagic® this year, we now had our own cake to bake, ice and sell.


As cake chefs and marketing professors go, Mark Ritson is top drawer. Good creatives can smell bullshit a mile off. It's how we sift through bad briefs, looking for the truth. Mark is out of that mould.

The candour you read in his Marketing Week columns is carried throughout the twelve modules of the course. It makes the education entertaining. A lesson which a lot of brands could learn from, especially in B2B. Make someone laugh, and they'll likely remember the educational point you were making, however serious.


Of the 1486 students on the course I completed, 74% identify as Marketers with an average of 10-15 years' experience, 50/50 split B2C/B2B, from 57 countries. Rethinking your definition of students now? Participation lists aren't shared, but within the LinkedIn course group (one of the most valuable elements related to the course) I spotted a smattering of Creative Directors, trying not to look like they had rocked up at the wrong party.


So, what's in it for a Creative Director? The competitive part of me was never going to write this blog - just keep the valuable knowledge for myself, and our company. But one of the things that you experience on the course, particularly in the exam, is that you'll get better at Marketing by sharing with other Marketers. Share your ideas, strategies and tactics and they'll be someone there, cleverer than you, to help nudge you back on track.


Marketing is a discipline that is continually under fire, but from what I witnessed on the weekly course Q&As, Marketing is a collective of very bright, kind people, racked with self-doubt about just 'getting it right'. It was refreshing to not have their voices drowned out for once, by the superficial self-confidence of the stereotypical salesperson.


Throughout the course Mark Ritson was at pains to point out that Marketing is about being comfortable moving forwards with certain unknowns. At that point I felt empathy as a Creative Director. To create original creative work, you operate surrounded by unknowns. You have a gut feel and then have to convince the Marketers. Which can be difficult if you subscribe, like I do, to Rory Sutherland's belief in the surprising power of ideas that don't make sense. The logic is always easier to buy than the magic.


As a Creative Director, taking the course helps you understand your place in the grand scheme of Marketing things. It's humbling. But you'll also develop an understanding of what else might be keeping your clients awake at night. I finished the course with more empathy for those Marketers trying to do the right things by their brands, and more frustration with those making it up as they go along.


As a Creative Director you won't even get to use your creative prowess in the end of course exam to do anything more than separate the wheat from the chaff, in another agency's tactical recommendations. That helps you realise how much can go wrong, or right, in terms of strategy, targeting and positioning before you're even briefed as an agency.


If you opt to take the course, don't duck the challenge, take the exam. The modules, reading lists and Q&As are great, but the exam is where it all comes together. The place you walk the walk. I was in the first six months of starting our agency, working seven days a week, but I forced myself to tackle the exam paper. Late night after late night of second-guessing my segmentation, targeting, positioning and tactics. Painful.


As it turned out, I made a mistake underestimating the importance of one piece of 'contractual information' which affected my positioning, setting me on the path to a 'B' grade. 'B' for better is how I see it, considering I had contemplated joining those who opted for whatever reason not to undergo Trial by Ritson. Better to have put forward a cohesive argument, then seen how another, alternative approach might work better. A good lesson to learn in a classroom, rather than real life.


Marketing is a discipline under threat. In many organisations it has lost its C-Suite status

to finance and operations. Functions that historically existed to support marketing, not vice versa. The only function in an organisation that produces revenues and profits is Marketing; that is, Marketing defined holistically as product, price, place, promotion, and positioning. Not Marketing defined by a collection of tactical executions.


“The business enterprise has two — and only two –basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”
Peter Drucker

Marketers need allies and agency Creative Directors can continue to be one such small, vocal cohort. Agencies can't sell great creative work without trained marketers who can recognise, understand and value our craft. We in turn need to support Marketing's role within organisations and that takes more than a superficial familiarity of the Marketing profession.


It takes a deeper understanding of what Marketing actually is. So that was my logic, to invest in myself, and try and become a better ally to the people that we work with daily In Marketing. With perhaps an eye on the fact I now too have a brand to market; poacher turned gamekeeper.


On reflection, I can't think of a better place to get that practical Marketing knowledge efficiently, and grow your confidence, than in Mark Ritson's mini-MBA in Marketing. With an NPS score of 80% from our course intake, I guess I'm far from alone too.




'B' for 'Better than I was before'.




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